State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean's (R-21) stated recognition of an opportunity to pick up a seat in LD3 and his efforts to recruit a candidate there have infuriated state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who's counter-attacking with a charge that Kean financially benefits from ties to a controversial debris removal company.
But Sweeney’s lunges at his Republican counterpart have an apparently unintended target: namely Democrats, who are beneficiaries of the same construction company that donates to Kean.
"It seems that my friend, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., has been ducking, bobbing, and weaving for the past 11 days since I challenged him on taking campaign cash from Hurricane Sandy debris removal firm AshBritt and their subcontractor, Conti Construction," said Sweeney.
Following published reports about the political ties of Republican Gov. Chris Christie to AshBritt, Sweeney called for Senate Oversight hearings into the Florida-based firm awarded a $100 million piggy back contract by the governor.
Kean said Sweeney’s playing politics, and applauded the governor for making a judgment call about enlisting AshBritt’s services to clean up in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Sweeney said he believes Kean has other motives for applauding the contract.
"Is the Senate Minority Leader fearful he'll lose financial support from his benefactors if he speaks out against these sweetheart deals?” Sweeney asked. “It's time for him to come out of self-imposed exile and stand with Senate and Assembly Democrats in bringing better accountability for New Jersey's middle-class taxpayers. "
To date, Kean has not responded and Sweeney has continued to attack.
There is no evidence that AshBritt or any of its principals gave money to Kean or anyone else in the state.
But in the last three years, Kean has taken thousands in contributions form Conti, AshBritt’s New Jersey-based partner, including at least $2,600 last year, $2,600 in 2011 and $1,000 in 2010.
But Conti is an equal opportunity contributor.
Since 1997, the firm has made political donations totaling $372,675, ELEC records show. Of that, over $155,000 has gone to Democratic Party candidates and committees, compared to $217,000 and change to the GOP.
Conti has also made individual campain contributions to State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski (D-19) and powerful state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20).
Firm principal Kurt Conti also has mixed his donations up though he also has given to Kean and several Republican candidates and committees. But over the past 11 years Conti has given thousands to Democrats as well including a 2001 donation of $37,000 to the Democratic State Committee, $1,000 to the Camden County Democratic Committee in 2004 and $5,000 to the New Jersey State Democratic Committee in 2002.
In all, Kurt Conti has given a total of $43,000 to Democratic committees since 1994 versus $34,000 to Republicans.
Democrats had hoped to force Kean to forego donations from Conti, though all of the company's donations were given before the contruction giant signed on with AshBritt to do debris removal after Superstorm Sandy. In exchange, Sweeney also has pledged to forego donations from Conti and AshBritt, though he has personally received none. His release did not say if the rest of his caucus would follow his lead.
Kean did not return calls for comment.
At least two Democratic Party sources told PolitickerNJ.con that Sweeney is particularly irritated with Kean’s efforts to recruit former Comptroller’s Office deputy chief of staff Niki Trunk to run against Sweeney.
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"Christie’s method for coping with scandal has been more complicated. In January, the seemingly-local issue of lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, which created a massive traffic jam in the Hudson River town of Fort Lee, became one of national interest when it was revealed that one of Christie’s closest staffers had ordered them—for what looked like political retribution against a Democratic mayor. The scandal was quickly dubbed 'Bridgegate,' and unfortunately for Christie, it played into his reputation as a bully. Christie's response was to act unlike himself: humble." - Olivia Nuzzi- The Daily Beast
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